I remember the day plastic bags appeared in stores, completely unannounced. They were strange, flimsy things and were totally unlike the sturdy brown paper bags that had been there just the day before. The quality comparison between brown paper and plastic bags became immediately obvious – there was none. Brown paper was to the bag kingdom as oak; plastic was as balsa wood.
Before long, however, it was virtually impossible to get a paper bag. Not unlike two-year plans for cell phones, plastic bags were the only type to be had. Where once I could have carried two brown paper bags full of groceries, I now juggled ten plastic bags. At home, the bags seemed to take on a life of their own; the two I stashed in a drawer somehow became a dozen, multiplying like bedbugs in a hotel. A feeble movement arose after some years offering a choice of paper or plastic, but it was half-hearted and far from universal.
I never asked that plastic bags replace paper. They were forced on me, probably by stores to reduce their own bag costs. But somehow as the years passed, I/we have somehow become responsible for their proliferation. Now if I forget to take the newest environmentally friendly reusable cloth bags when shopping, I must endure the accusing and smug look of the impossibly thin earth mother in line behind me as she archly hands her assortment of NPR, World Wildlife Federation and Whole Foods-branded bags to the checker. I’ll feel her disapproving gaze as the clerk rolls my non-organic, non-local foods over the scanner. Then she’ll herd her six children, each holding a yogurt popsicle and wearing Crocs, into her Prius with small white family composition decals in the back window (one partner, herself, six children of each gender, a mutt, 3 cats, and a turtle), which is parked beside my fossil-fuel powered car. Away she’ll go with her $500 worth of goat’s milk, gluten-free bread, free-range chicken and organic fair-trade coffee, nestled in her reusable, environmentally correct bags.
Buying organic is a nice idea, as is being environmentally friendly. I try to practice each concept as much as possible. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to be a scapegoat for every cause that somebody takes up so they can ride the moral high road and bump me into the virtual blame lane. We’re constantly admonished to buy local, buy organic, ride a bike instead of driving a car, use chemical-free cleaners and insecticides, use rags instead of paper towels and reuse, reuse, reuse.
I’m driving The Magic Bus, which consistently gets a respectable 32 mpg, because I refuse to purchase a car whose base price is over $20,000. It is also my own little space of refuge. I’d love to ride my bike to the store – if there was a store anywhere nearby. My country neighborhood has only a hamburg joint with anything prepared in oil or grease you could possibly desire. If I want to eat on a Sunday, I’m out of luck.
Organic and local products are always considerably more expensive than non-organic and non-local. I could get to know the food store personnel intimately since I would have to shop almost daily because organic produce spoils with marvelous speed. The only store where organics are marginally affordable is Walmart. However, now that Walmart is viewed as having swallowed the soul of the world, shopping there is just about grounds for being cast into the wilderness without my can of 40 wt. DEET insecticide. Should I be thus punished, I will assuredly become a meal for every tick and mosquito, even if I were coated with chemical-free, environmentally friendly bug spray, since none of those formulas works for me, the human mosquito magnet. I would grow my own vegetables, except for that pesky total lack of sunlight in my yard, and my desire to avoid the tick-laden deer that populate it and eat every last plant.
Our house water comes from a community well. The water is hard enough that I’ve used sand paper to clean the residue from the fixtures. The much-touted miracle vinegar and baking soda combo routinely fails to make a dent in any of the assortment of stains associated with the water; “elbow grease” doesn’t even apply here. Bring me the big guy – Mr. Clean – or the numbers – 409. Paper towels will be at the ready for the scrubbing and wiping, not the environmentally preferred rags, which would have to accumulate over several weeks into a crispy, stinking pile until there are enough to launder a full load rather than run the HE washer with anything less than that.
I want to do the right thing for the planet and all those earth mothers with a minimum of six children each. But I want to do it without constant haranguing from the media, climate scientists, and strangers in the security line at the local airport. I also want to continue supporting myself in a responsible way, such as funding my older age. I enjoy an adventure now and again, maybe going to the Big City to inhale the heady aromas of crowds, skyscrapers, exhaust fumes, and driven, energetic living. Those little escapes, as well as my older age funding, would be significantly curtailed if I adhered to every admonition to eat not just salad, but organic salad with lettuce cultivated under the waxing quarter moon by locals who bring it to market by carts drawn by unionized dogs; to buy my clothes from the boutique in town specializing in hemp sandals fashioned by disadvantaged South American Indian tribes and delivered here via an arduous journey on foot; to just ditch The Magic Bus and take government-subsidized Amtrak whose limited service adds at least a full day to any trip as well as an uptick in the taxes I pay to support inefficient public transportation. When the costs of organic, local, and public get in line, then I will. Till then, I’ll keep taking advantage, always in moderation and of my own volition, of the mixed blessings that make life easier and simpler. Isn’t that the current mantra – simplify, simplify, simplify?